Growing up my family didn’t have a lot of spare money to throw at the newest releases, so a pass-time favorite of myself and my father was rummaging through a diverse range of demo discs picked up on various expeditions into town. These discs often contained standalone shareware experiences, or delightful samplers from an entire publisher’s catalog.
One of these offerings I found myself enamored with was one of Microsoft’s Motocross Madness titles, a dirt bike rally game that offered (for the time) satisfying and compelling physics. It was two pieces of forbidden fruit in one- the hardware intensive simulation qualities of a racing game, and the mystique of dangerous rally motorbikes. My family was incredibly dubious of the concept of motorcycles, fearing the many urban myths and folklore surrounding them as inevitable bringers of death, but to me they were a fascinating invitation to dance with joy and mortality.
The fear-mongering about these vehicles was no deterrent to learn more for me, an idle youngster with plenty of curiosity about anything mechanically agile. And thus, Motocross Madness helped satiate my desires to roam free upon dunes and roll around playfully in the dirt, stoking fantasies of rural dirt bike adventures in the pine forests of my youth.
Eventually, the discs were forgotten and I moved onto my genres of choice, away from vehicle simulation and racing games, a growing fear of expensive peripherals holding me back. Trails Of Ténéré brought me back to that sublimely simple experience as I once more set out across dusty terrain and leaned into the role of a thrill-seeking rider.
As Ténéré’s blurry title screen fades in, your eyes are immediately adrift in the hazy desert afternoon with no other riders or signs of civilization in sight. A sensation that in any other context would be panic inducing and isolating, Ténéré’s loneliness is a wonderfully exuberant invitation to wide eyed joy as you roam freely without fear, and face head-on the calling of the expansive proving grounds.
Ivan Notaros‘ gorgeous rendering of the vast deserts is a testament to the burning urge in any trailblazer to tame hostile environments and leverage their innate dangers as a way to hone in one’s skills with precision. It isn’t just that Ténéré offers us a fantastical backdrop, but finite physical simulation that sells the feeling of the game just as much as the visuals do. Nothing is faked here, there are no cheap tricks or shortcuts taken with the riding mechanics, you feel every shock reverberate through the handlebars and the motorcycle feels truly alive. The bike is both a wild stallion to master and your lone companion, the foundation of your entire world in this alien landscape.
Ivan states that his inspiration was to capture the feelings he had come to reflect on after hearing about Thierry Sabine’s incident of becoming lost while participating in that year’s Abidjan-Nice rally. The powerful atmosphere captured by Ténéré’s Alpha release compelled me with that very curiosity I had in my youth for motor sports and matched it with my hunger for history, bringing it together to form an exceptionally memorable experience. Even early on in it’s development, it is a title that serves immense justice to it’s source material, and makes me even more eager for Ivan’s upcoming rally car title INFINLAND.
Ténéré temps me down the path not taken, and to some day embark on the wild trails with my very own motorcycle beneath me, to reflect on my own journey in a hammock under the starry desert skies.
Emily Rose is an indie developer who writes for rebind.io and resides in the pacific northwest. She’s often seen in the local VR arcade and developer community participating in pushing the medium’s horizons. You can find her on twitter @caravanmalice